The Community Kitchen: Working to Reduce Food Insecurity

Posted by Mariah Davis on Aug 21, 2019 Mariah Davis

Imagine for a moment you are the sole breadwinner of a household of four in New Hampshire. Between two part-time jobs, you earn a little more than $23,000, placing you in the 8 percent of New Hampshire residents who live below the poverty line.

Community dinner place settings and flowers

You have barely enough income to house, feed, and clothe all the members of your family, and any crisis that arises—the car breaks down, someone has a medical emergency, your childcare falls through—puts the entire system in jeopardy. Providing food for your family becomes more about filling bellies as economically as possible, with perhaps less focus on the ideals of good nutrition.

Fortunately, there exist organizations that offer hope and concrete assistance to those in need, and this is where The Community Kitchen of Keene, New Hampshire, comes in. The Community Kitchen has been providing for the food needs of people living on a low income in the Keene area for more than 30 years. Begun in 1983 in three churches, The Community Kitchen has grown to serve between 1,000 and 1,300 people in any given week. 

Three programs help the Kitchen execute their mission to provide meals for those in need. The Pantry Program offers food boxes containing staples such as bread, cereal, pasta, and protein for people to take home once a week.

Plus, every week night at the dinner hour, anyone who is in need of a prepared meal and companionship is welcome to come enjoy a well-balanced, nutritious meal through the Hot Meal Program.

And the Sunday Lunch Program is not just an opportunity for a healthy meal, it is also an opportunity for members of the community—families, businesses, and organizations—to help prepare and serve a light lunch and then clean up after. This volunteer opportunity is a great chance for people to learn about The Community Kitchen and contribute to their community.

Making ends meet on a low income in Cheshire County is hard enough, but finding affordable fresh fruits and vegetables is “impossible,” says Executive Director Phoebe Bray. When surveyed, “over 90 percent of our clients said they wouldn’t have fresh fruits or vegetables without us,” Phoebe continues. Consequently, The Community Kitchen has put their focus on increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables for the people they serve. To that end, the Kitchen launched their gleaning program to help capture fresh, local produce that might otherwise go to waste.

And in order to expand their reach and provide fresh produce to as many people as possible, The Community Kitchen has formed a food pantry collective with other pantries in Cheshire County. Pantries in smaller communities must rely on donations and what they receive from the USDA. When they join the food pantry collective, these smaller pantries have a wider selection of nonperishables and fresh produce.

The work of The Community Kitchen is made possible through the generosity of donors and sponsors. The most significant fundraising event for The Community Kitchen is their annual Local Harvest Dinner. This year, the dinner will be held on September 21. In its fifth year, the dinner is not just a major fundraiser, it’s also a lot of fun. The food is locally sourced and deliciously prepared by the Kitchen’s chefs, who delight in the chance to choose the menu and ingredients for once. Before the meal, diners get to mingle with other supporters of the Kitchen. Hosted at The Community Kitchen this year and last, the event is limited to seating for 80 people and is a chance for members of the community to come together and celebrate the work and people of The Community Kitchen. 

Through the 2018 Local Harvest Dinner, enough money was raised for the Kitchen to purchase a cargo van to replace the 17-year-old vehicle that was “more rust than van,” according to Phoebe. This year, the dinner will feature a silent auction and funds raised will go toward the Kitchen’s operating costs.

Mascoma Bank is proud to be the lead sponsor for the Local Harvest Dinner and invites you to join us in supporting groups that make our communities healthier and happier. Visit The Community Kitchen donations page for more information.

Topics: Community, volunteering